When I first started my herbal journey, for some reason I thought harvesting and drying my own herbs would be terribly complicated. Maybe this had something to do with growing up in a family where dried up shriveled things were tossed straight into the trashcan, considered completely unsuitable for human consumption. Dried herbs are definitely dried up and shriveled!
I also thought you had to have special equipment and string your plants up in just the right way so that your herbs would dry properly. I didn’t want to end up with a bunch of dried up shriveled stuff that I would have to throw out, so for a long time I just didn’t go there. Instead, I bought all my dried herbs.
Then recently I happened to see Phyllis Light in a video calmly talking about bringing in a branch of some herb she had picked and left on the kitchen table for a couple of days to dry. She picked up what looked to me like something for the compost pile, crumbled a few leaves between her fingers, and declared it as having “dried nicely” and that it was ready to use as a tea.
Wow, what an epiphany for me. Huh? That’s all there is to it? Hey, I could do that!
And so began my first drying experiments.
I’ve learned that in some cases, with especially juicy plants, you do have to be careful so that you don’t get mold or fermenting going on, but really even that is not nearly so complicated as I thought it would be.
Most herbs really can just be laid somewhere convenient on the kitchen table or counter for a couple days and they dry beautifully, keeping their fragrance and color. As soon as you detach an herb from the living plant, the dehydration begins. As long as you keep it out of especially humid places and give it lots of circulating air, it will dry just fine with no other effort.
Here’s some plantain I dried in just that way.
[Plantain photo here]
Some flowers and plants may need a little more help because of high moisture content. For example, red clover blossoms can ferment if the moisture in them evaporates too slowly, causing them to develop potentially dangerous blood thinning properties.
The answer for these is to dry them more quickly by putting them in a hotter environment with lots and lots of air circulation. To accomplish this, I’ve heard of some using the oven set on a low temp, turning them frequently, or hanging their herbs to dry in a hot attic with good air flow, even using fans if it is too humid.
You can also use a dehydrator. I was recently gifted one of these handy little contraptions, and I have to say it is a totally awesome tool. Mine has seven trays that you can fill and stack to dry quite a bit of herb all at once. Lay the herbs on the trays, flip the switch on, and just a couple hours later you have perfectly dried herbs. Then just crumble them into a quart canning jar and cap it tightly.
For the first time this year, I’m filling my cupboard with self-harvested, home-dried herbs. So far, I’ve got honeysuckle leaf and flower, tarragon, sage, rosemary. And the season is early yet, so that’s just the beginning.
What are you drying? Do you use different methods? I’d love to hear what you do 🙂